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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Perception hears the message

This week, TNT's Perception deals with the controversial topic of religion in "The Messenger." A dead body leads Daniel (Eric McCormack) and Kate (Rachel Leigh Cook) to the house of a deeply religious boy named Kyle, who thinks he talks to God. Daniel assumes the whole thing is a cult, as others show up and give all their money to Kyle. And, as the detectives learn, there is a scam going on here, but its not perpetuated by Kyle.

No, good old fashioned greed isn't tainting the actual faithful. Instead, an IRS agent (Roger Bart, Political Animals, The Producers) has teamed up with a gal on the inside (Jaimie Alexander, Thor, Kyle XY), and they are funneling money into a false charity, which they intend to run away with. Of course, with Daniel and Kate investigating, the two are caught, and those plans are scrapped.

"The Messenger" is interesting because, despite yet another pair of fantastic guest stars for the freshman series, the episode still doesn't flow quite right. The main problem is the way religion is handled. Daniel scoffs immediately when the subject is brought up, and Kate claims to be religious. Yet, she barely is involved in the spiritual parts of the episode, and offers no defense. And skeptic Daniel doesn't try to convince anyone that he's right, instead telling Kyle that he believes in him, and donating $50,000 to the cause.

Do the Perception writers hate religion or love it? The hate is there at the beginning, when Daniel says the idea is ridiculous. It's also present in the reveal that Kyle isn't really speaking to God, but actually has a brain tumor, a twist that does not really further the main plot. But there's the love when Daniel realizes Kyle is a good person, and Kyle keeps his faith after the surgery, still devoting his life to God's work. So the staff is made up of atheists and believers, and neither was able to take control here?

The complaint isn't that the are two sides to the religious issue in "The Messenger;" it's that both sides of the debate are down half-heartedly. Neither is committed to in any real way, making several characters, especially Daniel and Kate, appear silly. Daniel could be forgiven for coming around, challenging his own beliefs, if it had been done better. Kate should have stuck up for Kyle, and had more focus in this episode. The religious theme is very central to "The Messenger," but isn't developed enough in any specific element.

Daniel's hallucination this week is Joan of Arc (Melissa Farman, Lost, Game Change). Joan is just as flimsy as the rest of the religious stuff, never really settling into her character, seemingly not having the very strong faith she is known for. She is a figment of Daniel's imagination, though, so I guess if he's going to be so obtuse and contradictory on the subject, it makes sense for her to be, too, so at least that's consistent.

Other than that, Perception remains an enjoyable series. "The Messenger" is a comparably weak entry, but the actors make it watchable, despite the plot holes. The series is, overall, a little too much of a procedural for my taste. But the performers are great, and the stories usually make you think. It's fun to question what is reality and what isn't in each episode. Sometimes it is obvious, but other times, it is not, and there's almost always a doubt lingering. The show could be a bit better, but it's more entertaining than most, and worth the hour a week it asks for.

Watch Perception Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on TNT. First posted at TheTVKing

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